Did you know that there are a lot of hacks working in television who are consumed by bottom line results and utterly incapable of creating original ideas? Of course you did. You own a TV.
Oh sorry, not you, sir. (Wait. How are you reading this?)
Anyway, that's why television likes to take hit movies and turn them into TV shows. Sometimes it works! M*A*S*H, Alice, and The Odd Couple were all successful TV shows adapted from hit movies. Sometimes it doesn't. Clueless, Delta House, and Ferris Bueller all failed on the small screen. But sometimes television does this thing where they adapt something but don't ever bother getting the rights to the source material. They're not adapting the actual movie -- they're adapting what they think is popular about the movie. What the kids are into. Sometimes these producers are tapping into a trend, and sometimes they're just ripping stuff off. Here are five of the less imaginative attempts to create a hit show by altering the movie source material just enough to give it a new title.
In 1977, the world went space-batshit for Star Wars. For little boys like me, Han Solo completely defined our concept of what it meant to be a man, and I'm so glad Harrison Ford is back for Episode VII.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Even if that means they also had to hire Andy Serkis to portray the CGI personification of Harrison Ford's grumbling disdain for the project.
Anyway, by 1978, television was eager to tap into the phenomenal Star Wars success, and Battlestar Galactica was born. Now, it's true the plot's not exactly the same -- back in 1978, BSG was about a ragtag band of rebels looking for Earth while they fled Cylon robots -- but there are some similarities that are hard to ignore.
The Darth Vader and Cylon designs are strikingly similar. Furthermore, while James Earl Jones voiced Darth Vader, Morgan Freeman was recruited for all the Cylon dialogue. Lastly, that's totally untrue.
Those bad guys sure look similar, and so did many of the space shots. That's probably because John Dykstra, who headed the special effects team for Star Wars, also headed up the BSG team. Then you have two main characters and friends: one is a cavalier space cowboy, and the other is a more pious, boy-next-door recruit. That could apply equally to Han Solo and Luke and to Starbuck and Apollo, respectively. Indeed, as sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov said: "Star Wars was fun and I enjoyed it. But Battlestar Galactica was Star Wars all over again and I couldn't enjoy it without amnesia."
And in 1978, 20th Century Fox agreed and brought an intellectual property suit against Universal Studios claiming it had stolen 34 distinct ideas. Of course, all that was forgotten with the 2004 reboot where people could talk about all the important things in the BSG universe, like how influenced it was by Firefly.
In 1986, the world fell in love with a movie called Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and who could blame them? Well, me, actually. I don't really like Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I always thought it was kinda meh. But we didn't say "meh" back then, so I said it was kinda "eh." It was the '80s. You wouldn't understand. In any event, after the movie's huge success, television wanted a piece of it. Actually, it was four years after (which is kinda weird). In 1990, NBC got the rights to Ferris Bueller and unleashed a sitcom. Faced with the impossible task of recasting the impeccable Mathew Broderick, NBC did the only thing they could:
They hired a troll and shaved him down until he could pass for a teen.
Anyway, that show sucked and went off the air after 13 episodes, but the Fox ripoff fared better: Parker Lewis Can't Lose lasted three seasons. What was it about? It was basically Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the story of a superstar high school kid, his friend, his sister, and a finicky principal.
Here. Watch an episode. Or don't. It kinda sucks, but you will certainly see how there is really no difference at all between Ferris and Parker, including their cocksure narration.
If you've never seen the John Landis flick An American Werewolf in London, please fix that. It's great, and it was funny and scary years before Evil Dead II existed. It tells the story of two nice college boys traveling the English countryside. One is mauled to death by a werewolf, and the other one is bitten, gaining all the shape-changing abilities you'd expect. But even though the movie is funny and scary, it's probably best known for its special effects that won Rick Baker an Oscar. Check out the transformation scene:
Now, Manimal wasn't a show about a werewolf, but instead told the story of a handsome, young, rich Englishman who ... um, knew how to change into animals. And having gained that power, he used it to ... um, solve crimes. Crimes like who's been vandalizing the zoo or who's been poisoning NYC Central Park carriage horses? I don't really know. The show was awful and didn't run a full season despite its snazzy intro. It was really just an excuse for transformations like in An American Werewolf in London. And even though they got the great Stan Winston, the effects were pretty derivative and cheesy.
TRON was a big deal in 1982. Jeff Bridges becomes part of a program and has to ride around in neat cars and stuff. Perhaps I'm under-explaining things. But the point is, it looked cool for the time.
Trust me, if you were prepubescent in 1982, you'd be ejaculating over this. I know that makes no sense. Shut up.
But whereas TRON featured a programmer who was sucked into his game and forced to wear blue neon, Automan was about an "automatic man" who was sucked out of a program and forced to wear blue neon. It's filled with complicated science stuff. Maybe this will help explain?
So, much like Manimal, this is a show that was more about adopting a special effect from a movie and using it to ... fight crime. Automan could also make holographic cars and helicopters and stuff because that's what Automatic Men can do, I guess. And in the intro, you can see that they move a little like the TRON cars in sped-up fashion.
Anyway, as hard as it is to believe, if you steal a popular special effect from a movie and use it to fight crime in a TV show, you get pretty awful television. I think we as a society have learned this, which is why after Jurassic Park there was never a show called Velociraptor, P.I.
"Now that I've learned how to open doors, I'll solve this crime no problem!"
I can't pretend the 1979 movie The Warriors is a quality film, but I do know I love it. Lots of people do. It's lovable! What else would you call a movie about a NYC overrun by rival gangs, where one gang must fight through hostile territory to reach safety?
"I dunno. Anything but 'lovely.'"
Anyway, The Warriors was definitely a cult classic, and TV wanted a piece of it. They wanted a show about a "nice" gang right down to the handsome leader who walks around with a vest and no shirt. And they got it with The Renegades, starring a very young Patrick Swayze. But how do you make a show about gangs even safer for '80s TV? Why not have the gang work for the cops? That makes sense, right? It doesn't? Who cares.
What I am about to show you is the greatest intro to any '80s show ever. When I'm depressed, I watch this, and it cheers me up every time. This intro has so much '80s awesome that it makes Knight Rider look like a somber documentary about car maintenance. I give you ... THE RENEGADES!
There's so much to love about this gang. They've got a black guy who punches, an Asian guy who kicks, a hot tough chick who looks hot and tough, and then some Latino guy who is Latino! They're also really good at fixing their hair dramatically and walking. Oh how they walk! There's a lot of crime in inner city corridors, and they fight it!
But my favorite part of this opening is how it hamfistedly conveys the uneasy alliance between the Renegades and the cops. Y'see, despite the fantastic way the Renegades walk down the alley, it seems Capt. Scanlon just doesn't approve of these ruffians.
But Lt. Marciano sees something undeniably awesome about this gang. "I mean, just look at them!" he's saying. "They got a guy named Dancer! Come on!"
And then, seeing that Marciano has made a brilliant argument in their defense, the Renegades just hang back and say, "Awww, yeah, that's right. You know we're awesome. This is gonna be all right. We're all gonna be allllll right."
Anyway, The Renegades was cancelled in two seconds because it sucked an awful lot, but you can watch the full Warriors movie on YouTube right now.
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